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Clayton Haslop

The Vibrato Twitch

March 8, 2010 at 4:56 PM

The past few days I’ve been doing the spring cleanup around our property.  And let me tell you, there isn’t a plant in Arizona that doesn’t have at least two ways to scratch, poke, bite, or otherwise draw blood from you if you try to alter their personal destiny in the slightest way.

Fortunately, none of the insults to my physical being have proved life threatening, so far.

Now, during my off time I’ve been taking another look at vibrato.

It seems that some folks have difficulty going from the slow, deliberate motion to the quick, automatic oscillation that characterizes a true vibrato.

Today I believe I have an approach that will solve the matter, once and for all.

Here’s what you do.

Place your hand in first position and take a pitch with one finger, you choose.

Actually I want you to begin with that finger ‘rolled back’ slightly, on the pad of the finger, with very light pressure on the string.  And since the finger is ‘rolled back’ the pitch should actually be about a quarter of a tone flat from what it normally is.

Ok, now, with your hand and arm relaxed, I want you to send a quick impulse to your wrist such that it gives a light, fast twitch toward your nose.

When you make this twitch you will notice a couple things; the finger you’re playing will be pushed into the string slightly and released, the pitch will rise to ‘in tune’ and fall back down, and your wrist will return to the relaxed state it was in just before the twitch.

This little ‘event’ should be like the blink of an eye.

Now, once you have done this a few times without trying to measure it in any way, see if you can repeat it once a second.

After this is managed, on each finger, move to twice a second. 

Up to this point each twitch, or pulsation, is controlled consciously. 

Now you are going to twitch four times within a second.  And at this point the first impulse will be given consciously, yet the second will be almost a reverberation.  And as such, it will be automatic.

The final step, and one you may already have taken, is to string several beats together.  And there you have it, vibrato.

Now, one of the mistakes people make in trying to master vibrato is to force it.  Uh-uh.

Start flat, toward the pad of the finger, relax everything, and pulse.  Each pulse should be clean, quick, and return the finger to the starting point; that is, BELOW the pitch of the note.  And everything is relaxed.

You see, the pitch level that is audible to the ear is the one where the finger is at its apex.  Why this is so is simply that that is where the finger is most pointedly in the string.  If you start from the pitch and go up from there, as some folks do, you will have a tendency to sound sharp to everyone else.

Good luck, and…

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

From Jo Parker
Posted on March 10, 2010 at 9:20 AM

Thank you for that Clayton.

I have a problem: shiny/slippery (very slippery) fingertips!  I am the person who cannot ever open a carrier bag at the checkout because of this!

My hands/fingers never sweat! when I do vibrato I often face the problem that my fingertips are 'sliding' on the string, no matter how hard or lightly I press them, this problem is less if I put a lot of pressure, but with a lot of pressure comes tension which is not good 'and' makes the violin shake....

any suggestion? I just thought: maybe I should 'moisturise' my fingertips daily? or just before a practice session?

thank you in advance for any tips anyone might have...


From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on March 10, 2010 at 4:50 PM

If it were only so easy to teach ourselves to relax....

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